THE PRODUCTION (AN ORAL HISTORY)
In the spring of 2008, aspiring writer Anthony Greene, wannabe director Ken Simpson and upstart producer Alex Jordan made a handshake deal to start production on an ambitious $50,000 micro-budget feature film. “Headcase” follows the exploits of a despondent wise-ass named Craig: after being fired from his job, a man he barely knows talks Craig into delivering a headbox to the mob. What follows is a darkly comic series of events as Craig gets more and more entangled with criminals, while at the same time discovering a motive for staying alive and out of trouble in the form of a local bartender (played by Youtube’s “Bridezilla” viral video star, Jodi Behan).
Before Headcase could reach it's final destination of the silver screen it first had to traverse the long, daunting and bumpy road that is micro-budget filmmaking. What follows here is an oral account by the cast and crew that documents the 5 year odyssey of getting this film from script to screen...
"Before getting involved in Headcase I was working as a bartender. I had been looking to fund a film and was looking into all the government grants and just realized that I couldn't even understand the paperwork involved because it didn't seem like I was eligible for any of them.
When Ken and Alex expressed interest in my script for Headcase they wanted to know how I intended to finance it. I said this is how much money I can get (which was fifty thousand dollars) though a line of credit and a credit card with a low interest rate. It seems like a crazy idea now but at the time there was no other way of making the film as far as I could see." - Anthony Greene
"I had been working in film for about 11 years just prior to Headcase, mainly as a lighting technician but was gradually transitioning into an editor. I had gotten into this crazy industry to be a director but was doing almost everything but. I met Anthony Greene at Castro's Lounge and struck up a conversation with him, as it turned out we'd gone to the same high school but never really formally met. The short story is that I told him I worked in film and he said that he'd written a script that he was looking to produce, so it seemed natural that we might eventually collaborate." - Ken Simpson
"Ken Simpson called me and told me he had a script called 'Headcase' that he was liking and that I should read it. He wanted my opinion as to whether it was possible to make on a shoestring budget. I read it and thought, 'Yeah, you probably could' I had produced several small projects for other people before that and wanted to release a feature under my own company name. So after a little negotiation, the three of us sat down and made a handshake deal to make the movie." - Alex Jordan
Once the deal was agreed upon, Alex Jordan enlisted casting director and associate producer Lara Amersey to conduct a series of casting sessions for the film.
"Before I got involved in Headcase I was working as a professional actor for about 5 years but I was kind of in a transitionary period where I was still working as an actor but trying to get experience in casting as well. So I was definitely eager to help out on Headcase because I felt my experience as an actor could really benefit not only the casting process but the entire production as well." - Lara Amersey
Since Anthony Greene had written the lead role of Craig for himself, the next order of business was to cast the film's female lead, "Katie" an outgoing, albeit professionally directionless waitress who dreams of traveling the world.
"Headcase was my first feature, before that I was just doing a lot of short films and just spending a lot of time in the acting class doing the "Meisner" technique. I was moving away from theatre work and was really trying to pursue film and television." - Jodi Behn
Like Behan, the majority of the supporting cast had also never been in a feature film before, including Leon Bearman who plays the film's antagonist, "Sean" who auditioned via a short video clip sent all the way from England. Unbeknownst to Ken Simpson and Alex Jordan at the time, was that Leon and Anthony Greene were in fact distant cousins.
"I said to Ken and Alex that they should really check out this guy from England for the part of Sean. Of course I didn't mention that I didn't really know him that well, I played it off that I was more familiar with his work than I actually was just because my gut said that this guy was going to be great. Regardless, no one (other than myself) seriously believed that Leon was going to fly over from England just to do the role." - Anthony Greene
Despite its short length, Leon's audition clip still managed to impress both Ken Simpson and Alex Jordan enough that they were willing take a chance on this long distance relationship. After a few reassurances regarding the level of commitment required for the part, Leon flew himself over to Canada (at his own expense) on three separate occasions just for the opportunity of playing the part of Sean.
"Going to Toronto, (I'd never been there before) and making a film, well I'd pay for that all over again, because it was a pleasure. The first time I went over, the airline I'd gotten over there on went bankrupt so I had to shell out even more money to get back home.
The second time I flew over I had about eight hundred dollars (my entire budget for my stay) in my wallet and I lost it the first night there. But it's just money really, you learn a lesson and you move on - it's all part of the Headcase story for me." - Leon Bearman
Another of the film's villains was played by sixty-eight year old retiree who went by the nickname of Zorro. Zorro's gruff, baritone voice and imposing stature impressed the director and producers who tailored the dialogue of the character "Jack" to better fit Zorro's unique stature and delivery. Zorro, also a novice actor, was cajoled into auditioning for Headcase by Anthony Greene who was friends with Zorro's son.
"So I walked into this room (and now I know a casting call when I see one because I used to do voice over work) and I walk in and I say, 'I'm not gonna sit here with all these wannabes y'know this is not my gig, I'm rich!' Well, fifteen minutes later I'm having an audition for a non-paying job for Tony Favour (Anthony Greene) and I can't believe this shit...but for you guys, what the Hell?!" - Zorro
The majority of the film was shot over the course of several months in 2008 using a rag-tag group of rotating volunteers, most of who were fresh out of film school and had never worked on a film before.
"Looking at the time of the year (Spring of 2008), the reality of people's schedules and just knowing that once you start shooting a movie and get some momentum there's no stopping that train. It's just gonna go and you're just gonna spend money to fix problems and we didn't really have enough money to make the movie in the first place, let alone have money to spend to fix problems.
So, what I was very good at at the time was producing short films, so I figured what we could do was break the feature down into the equivalent of making a short film a month. By shooting the film in several blocks I could micromanage the various departments and get away with a relatively small crew to pull off our ambitious vision." - Alex Jordan
"I had just finished my first year of university taking film classes at Western. I wanted some real on set experience, so Headcase was my first exposure to that." - Kara MacLean
"I was still in college for broadcasting and film, so it was really cool actually getting on set because no one else in my class had ever been on a real film set!" - Steve Dalcin
"I had literally just left film school (I never actually graduated) and I was looking for some on set experience because my main goal was to be an Art Director one day. Honestly, at that point I didn't know what an Art Director actually did or even how a film set worked, I only had ideas about it, so Headcase was a major learning curve for me." - Johnny Nghiem
"I've always wanted to act, and I was taking acting lessons at the time but I also wanted to learn more about what happens behind the camera. I was pretty nervous at the beginning because I'd never been on a film set, but it was a tight group of people - almost like a little family. Even though I was just a 'production assistant' I never felt like I was on the bottom rung of the ladder, I learned so much and was able to contribute in a meaningful way which made me want to stay and keep working on the film" - Ola Katarzyna
Still, the filmmakers were able to pull in a few of their more experienced colleagues to help out from time to time.
"Getting volunteers for a film set is a bit like asking people to help you move; you begin realize how hard it is just to get five people to show up at the same time, at the same place on the same day when there's no monetary compensation involved. Still we had a lot of support, people like Anthony Wong, Russell Challenger, Tomas Street, Sean Jordan, Felicia Simms and many others would drop by and lend a hand if they didn't have any paying gigs keeping them busy, which was a huge help and really allowed us to get our days in." - Ken Simpson
After a short stint in pre-production, Headcase began filming on April 23rd, 2008. For various logistical reasons, the production decided that the majority of Jodi Behan's scenes (including the ending of the movie) would be shot first.
"In retrospect, I'm not so sure that was the best idea. The time between making the handshake deal with Alex , Anthony and myself to the time when we found ourselves on set for the first day of principle photography was really short! Partially because we knew we needed to shoot during the Summer but also because it didn't allow anyone anytime to second guess this venture or get cold feet. If Anthony had more time to think about what he was getting himself into I'm not sure he would have pulled the trigger on the financing.
Regardless, that first week was a real wake up call for all of us. We had a location that basically would only allow us to shoot for what amounted to about 5 hours a day. That's hardly any time at all for most film sets but in our case as a first time feature for the director, the cast, the cinematographer and a lot of the crew it resulted in a tense and frustrating scenario. It was especially difficult for Anthony and myself as we tried to find our footing with each other and get on the same page, tonally speaking. It was a real trial by fire for sure, not by any means ideal, but at the same time, I'm not so sure there was any way around it." - Ken Simpson
Ken Simpson's longtime friend, colleague and Headcase cinematographer, Alex Dacev also recalls the difficulties of that first week of shooting.
"I have to say, day one was probably the worst day for me. I remember not being happy because I'd been a technician for years and years before, I'd worked on big budget Hollywood movies and it wasn't the way I pictured how my first week as a cinematographer would be, with only three lights and a doorway dolly, two pieces of track and virtually no supporting help. So I remember the first week was (emotionally speaking) very dark for me." - Alex Dacev
As the Summer continued, the production team found themselves gradually getting through the scheduled shooting blocks but the issue regarding authorship / ownership of the film persisted between director, Ken Simpson and writer / star Anthony Greene.
"About six years before making Headcase I made a TV pilot for a comedic series with some friends but was disappointed with the final result largely because the comedic timing fell flat due to creative differences. So much of my apprehension going into Headcase stemmed from that. Would Ken get my humour? Would the jokes work? Stuff, like that.
So on Headcase, the idea of who had 'creative control' developed over time, initially I had more involvement on the creative aspect of the filming but after the first block or so, I realized that you need someone in charge, one person who can make all of those creative decisions. Ken was the director and was the obvious choice for that, besides it was so physically and emotionally taxing enough just staring in a film and juggling a full time job that half way through the production I was happy to just show up to set and say, 'What are we shooting today?' without worrying about all the minutia of a working film set." - Anthony Greene
Yet despite the initial growing pains, the production settled into an efficient and creative groove as the cast and crew began to gel.
"It's such an arduous task to get all these people together (for free) and it seems like every time you're filming anything it's teetering on the edge of completely falling apart because the final result is dependent on so many people's efforts...But the good thing about it is when you see it coming together and say, 'Oh, this works, this is actually good!'" - Russell Challenger
"Sometimes it takes a few days to get all the wheels in motion, I don't know what it is, whether you're just clicking more with the director or the crew or the actors, but you have time to learn from your mistakes, which is the beauty of making a feature film. It's okay to make mistakes, just don't make a bad movie!" - Alex Dacev
"One of the reasons its all worked out is that we all respected each other, even though sometimes we all pissed each other off, we still respected each other. As for the artistic integrity of the film well, at the end of the day we always knew that Ken would be the one editing the film, which in many respects would give him more control than most established working directors enjoy...It was always assumed that Ken would have the final cut insomuch that he was literally the one making the cuts." - Alex Jordan
With the cast and crew gaining more confidence, the lighting, blocking and camera movement became more sophisticated. Longer takes and less coverage were becoming standard.
"It's true that in the earlier blocks the coverage on the actors was safer which resulted in a cutting style that was more 'choppy' than I or Dacev and Jordan would have preferred. Those first few blocks were really more like a test run for the shooting blocks that came afterwards. I remember it causing me a considerable amount of anxiety because I didn't see a lot of my aesthetic in much of that early footage - even though I was directing and operating the camera! But once we started firing on all cylinders I thought we were consistently making some really interesting, and innovative choices" - Ken Simpson
"I felt like we were almost kids in high school at the beginning of Headcase, walking around like, 'What the Hell are we doing here?' and by the end of shooting it felt like we were really getting into a groove and what we were shooting was gold! I just remember going to bed at night feeling good about what we were getting and I couldn't wait to get back to work the next day." - Alex Dacev
"Some of my most fun moments on Headcase, purely for selfish reasons because I knew that I was working on something that would be great in the end was watching Ken and Alex Dacev discuss how they might improve on a particular shot while Alex Jordan was standing behind them saying, 'You guys, we gotta go, we gotta get this stuff done today!' and Ken and Alex Dacev saying, 'Yeah, yeah, we'll get it done, don't worry about it.' That attention to detail, gave me, as an actor volunteering his time, a lot of confidence." - Brian Scott
Central the the look of the film was a notion that Ken Simpson, Alex Dacev and Alex Jordan all shared after working for ten years in the Toronto film industry, namely that production value was derived from a belief system, not a dollar amount.
“Production value is a state of mind, not a budget consideration. Alex Jordan and Dacev and I were sick of the defeatist attitudes we kept encountering when working on Canadian film sets. The directors, producers and cinematographers would always claim they couldn't make great looking films because their budgets just didn't support it...we totally disagreed.
There's this term you keep hearing from Canadian directors, producers and cinematographers—'It is what it is'—but we didn't buy into that. We both believed that 'it is' what you make of it. We refused to accept that our movie had to look and feel cheap simply because we were working within the confines of a micro-budget.” - Ken Simpson
"I was doing a big feature before Headcase and I saw how everything was like; two, three, four cameras, a million lights and tons of money behind it. Then to come to Headcase and it's like one camera, a cinematographer and bunch of people volunteering their time and yet to still then be able to make a product that's comparable to the big feature showed me how talent can make up for all of the other stuff that you need to make a million dollar film." - Isaac Visaretis
"We barely even talked about money, y'know I'd say, 'We can afford to do this' or 'We can't afford to do that' but it doesn't really matter about the money, what matters is who's using it and how they make it look. Now having said that, fifty thousand dollars does go by very quick!" - Alex Jordan
Once principal photography was completed the production limped into the arduous and lengthy post production phase.
"Initially Alex, Anthony and I had the idea was that I would be editing the movie in between our shooting blocks, but that was just not feasable. Not only was I trying to secure and complete paying gigs to cover my rent but what little time I did have was taken up prepping for the next Headcase shooting block; location scouting, casting, breaking down the script for the various departments etc, etc...
So there was no real editing done on Headcase until the majority of the film had been shot. Even still, before the film could be edited it had to be logged first and lucky enough, our friend and fellow editor Jamie Tiernay volunteered a week or so of his time to log the majority of the film's footage." - Ken Simpson
During this period, writer, producer and star Anthony Greene lobbied hard to submit a rough cut of the film to the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.
"What happened was that Ken kept showing me these little clips of Headcase that looked great but because they were so short I didn't really realize how bad the sound was overall. So I figured well, 'Why can't we have it ready for the Summer and enter it to TIFF?'" - Anthony Greene
"I was reluctant to submit to TIFF at that time, maybe because I was the one editing it and knew just how much more work it was really going to take to get that film to a point where it would be screenable. It was missing all kinds of inserts, effect shots, ADR, properly licensed music...Jesus, the list went on and on...But still, I guess in every filmmaker there's always that greedy, irrational voice in the back of your head saying, 'Maybe they'll see how great it could be, maybe it'll get in...Why not right!?!'" - Ken Simpson
"There was no way it was gonna get in. Headcase wasn't a 'festival film' which was good thing in a way because we didn't set out to make a typical Canadian festival film. Even if we dumped another fifty thousand into it, it wouldn't have made a difference as far as TIFF was concerned. We weren't part of the inner circle of 'established' Canadian filmmakers that got into TIFF every year and we didn't have any name actors. Besides, the golden rule is to never submit a rough cut or a work in progress unless you're really tight with the festival's programmer, otherwise you're just doing yourself and your film a disservice." - Alex Jordan
"Looking back now I realize that it really wasn't even going to be a possibility (on many levels) to get into TIFF, that was just being naive." - Anthony Greene
Like the thousands of other films submitted to TIFF that year, Headcase was not selected for exhibition. This was a double edged sword for the Headcase team, while it gave them breathing room to finesse the picture it also raised a much larger dilemma.
"A lot of strings were pulled to get Headcase in to the shape that we submitted it in for TIFF. On one hand the deadline was a very positive thing insomuch that it provided a sense of urgency to get all the actors into the ADR booth and to get a temp mix of the film so we could see and hear how certain scenes played out. The problem though was that all these favours we called into get the film into a viewable condition were for a version of the film that didn't really work story-wise. There were some major plot holes along with a few tonal issues and performances that just didn't work." - Ken Simpson
"The issue was that in order to do the sound mix, we had to have a locked picture. So we rushed the locked picture to get the film into the mix to send it off to meet the TIFF deadline. Well, once we learned that the film wasn't selected, Ken started talking about a lot of revisions to the current 'locked picture'" - Alex Jordan
"It was an extremely difficult decision that couldn't be taken lightly. I knew that we still had to find the seventeen or so properly licensed songs for the film and it was wishful thinking to assume that we were going to find that many songs to swap out with the existing temp tracks and somehow not affect the timing of the picture edit. I mean; I guess you could just swap the songs out and not care if they didn't line up with the picture edit, but that would've been negligent and unprofessional given how hard we had worked up to that point.
Basically It left us at a significant crossroad: Either finish mastering this lack-luster film we had hurried together for TIFF (already at great expense and energy to the production) or break the picture lock and go back to the drawing board editorially speaking. Again, I can't stress how big of a decision this was because it was going to entail several re-writes, re-shoots and in some cases, complete overhauls of certain key scenes.
But it was my first feature and it had my name on it, I just felt it would've been a shame to 'phone' anything in at this stage. It's important to note that if you break picture lock by one frame or by thirty minutes it makes no real difference, once picture lock is broken, it's broken. The connection between your picture and your painstakingly mixed audio is lost. In spite of that, I proposed that we try to make the best damn film that we could and to Hell with the picture lock - which I knew would have major consequences for us down the line. Since we'd exhausted Anthony's initial fifty thousand dollar investment by that point it meant that any additional shooting would have to be begged for, borrowed or somehow stolen." - Ken Simpson
This decision essentially led to a two year long delay in the release of Headcase as Anthony, Ken and Alex worked together to finesse the various issues still facing the film. The filmmakers would arrange for occasional pick up days for various inserts and mini-reshoots for problem scenes in between their work schedules. Additionally, Ken Simpson took on the responsibility of completing the ever growing number of visual effects shots for the film.
"It was always assumed there would be a certain number of VFX shots for the film, and initially we figured there would be less than a dozen to deal with, mostly muzzle flashes and anything relating to the severed heads, which we planned to outsource to a boutique post house. But because the money had all but dried up we really couldn't afford to outsource anything at all! So it all kind of fell onto my shoulders, but before I could even begin to tackle the majority of effects for Headcase I had to learn the art of tracking and compositing first." - Ken Simpson
To do this Ken enrolled in several online courses through fxphd.com and found a wealth of information through RTO210: Secrets of Paint and Roto and AFX301: A Guerrilla Filmmaker's Guide to After Effects in particular. Remaining gaps of knowledge were filled in with Andrew Kramer's Video Copilot , Mathias Mol's Mamoworld and maltaannon.com tutorials.
"It started out fairly slow but once I began banging out shots I got more and more confident and I started looking at the process of editing in a whole new light. Certain shots that I was unhappy with were suddenly fixable, these weren't traditional VFX type shots per se, they just had minor elements that bothered me and I was able to apply subtle, invisible effects to get them to where I wanted them. What was originally supposed to be a dozen or so effects shots ultimately ended up somewhere in the vicinity of 140!" - Ken Simpson
Concurrently to Ken shoring up the visual effects, Anthony Greene and Alex Jordan began the long, tedious process of sourcing out indie musical acts to replace the 17 temp tracks within the film.
"The post production was a long and tedious process, a really dark time actually where everything felt like it was at the point of diminishing returns. The finish line seemed so close and yet so far away, because weeks would go by without any forward movement. Anthony Greene really pulled though in terms of getting us a lot of decent music replacements through his contacts at Castro's Lounge but there were still a few tracks we were having trouble securing so I brought on music supervisor, Bruce Rabinowitz to help out." - Alex Jordan
"I was in contact with Alex Jordan for several months before they brought me on officially, we spoke for hours on the phone just bringing him up to speed on the nature of music clearances and licensing. The job entails a lot of phone calls, a lot of emails, it's just a lot of detective work basically. They didn't have a lot of money so they asked me to secure their tougher tracks which basically amounted to three traditional Country & Western songs and the 'Lightning Song' by Blood on the Wall'" - Bruce Rabinowitz
With the remaining visual effects shots and licensed song selections inserted into Headcase, the filmmakers had to deal with one final, albeit major obstacle...The broken "locked picture".
"The picture we were delivering back to Post City Sound was six minutes shorter in length than the previous cut, but there were substantial changes and additions to the final edit that belie the mere six minute time difference. Essentially we had a picture that did not run in synch with the previously mixed audio tracks. To make matters more frustrating, Post City Sound were busy with other projects and weren't really able to devote any additional time to us in the foreseeable future. So we had a real dilemma on our hands; how do we keep the ADR and mixing work that Post City Sound had already done and re-synch it all somewhere else?" - Ken Simpson
"I basically made a 911 call to (my then) future brother-in-law Cory Peck. Fortuitously Cody had just opened up a new post audio house called Epik Productions and was looking to get some credits under his company's belt. He'd actually even come out on a few occasions while we were shooting Headcase and recorded on-set sound, so he was familiar with the material and more than willing to help us out." - Alex Jordan
"Post City Sound had given us their two mix sessions (one dialogue/foley and the other music/effects) which we had to combine into one session on our system.We knew we were in for a long haul and I think the lesson to be learned from all of this is to never get yourself into this type of situation to begin with!" - Ross Citrullo
"The challenge that we had was that we had to take two different projects and combine it into one and then re-synch it all. Although sometimes there were shots or scenes that had no previous audio mixing done to them because they were added after Post City Sound had worked on it. Luckily, Ken was the editor so he knew the film like the back of his hand and was able to sit with us during the entire process. All of this was predicated on trying to retain as much of the great work that was already done by Post City. It was definitely tricky and tedious although by no means an impossible task." - Cory Peck.
Finally the filmmaking team had a mastered version of Headcase! Unfortunately they were completely out of money and now faced the long, hard and very expensive road of the independent film festival circuit.
"Yeah, it was a Herculean effort just to get the film made and mastered, and to add to the frustration I had (financially speaking) had a couple of very bad years working as a freelance editor. I was barely making my rent at the time so it was very disheartening knowing that we still had so far to go still." - Ken Simpson
"Ideally I would have loved to have had several thousand dollars set aside for the promotion and distribution of Headcase but we committed one of the biggest mistakes that most indie filmmakers commit; we blew through our budget just getting the film in the can." - Alex Jordan
CROWD FUNDING & Headcase: A Look Inside
It had taken the filmmakers four long years to complete Headcase during which industry was undergoing some very profound, somewhat disconcerting yet potentially exciting developments.
"Basically the brick and mortar video industry was collapsing, BlockBuster was gone along with most other video rental giants. Movie piracy was becoming commonplace and it was starting to look like there wouldn't really be a distribution outlet for our film. But it wasn't all bad news, crowdfunding was in its initial stages and seemed like a promising, viable way for us to generate revenue to get our film out to the world.
I have a distinct memory of looking around my place to thinking, what do I have that's of any value to anyone (I had long since pawned anything of any real worth) and then it hit me: I've got my experiences of making Headcase! I was a big reader of film blogs, watcher of video tutorials and listener of industry podcasts so I knew there was a huge appetite for this kind of 'real world' wisdom. We had made more than our share of mistakes while making Headcase but we had also experienced more than a few successes and I knew all at accumulated knowledge was worth something to someone, somewhere!
So Alex Jordan and I devised an idea for a humorous and candid 12 part webseries that would hi-light exactly that. We could then use the series to develop and promote our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign" - Ken Simpson
The series, entitled, 'Headcase: A Look Inside' would eventually balloon into a 12 part, 5 hour long informal film school featuring roughly 30 interviews with the cast and crew of Headcase, each sharing their own unique perspective about making a feature film within the confines of a micro-budget. The interviews were hi-lighted with a mix of production stills, behind the scenes footage and short clips from the movie itself to provide an entertaining and insightful look at the process of making movies on the cheap. Each week a new episode would appear along with a request for financial support to Headcase's campaign towards $20,000 - of which dozens of people contributed generously.
One such contributor, Anthony Costa put $10,000 towards the film and claimed the co-producer credit perk, Costa cited the 'Look Inside' series specifically as a deciding factor for his contribution. While the campaign fell well short of its intended $20,000 goal, it still afforded the filmmakers a decent float to submit to various film festivals.
FILM FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
"We submitted to a lot of festivals, in big, medium and small markets - Believe me it wasn't cheap! Festivals can be a real racket; you submit your film, pay your fee and hope that they watch it! You have no real way of knowing if your film is actually getting screened or not, especially if your film has no name actors or an established director attached to it." - Alex Jordan
The filmmakers decided to premiere their film at The Seattle True Independent Film Festival (STIFF) in 2013. Headcase had an excellent slot as it was scheduled to be the last film screened at the festival. Producer Alex Jordan and Director Ken Simpson flew down to Seattle to promote the film throughout the week prior to the screening.
"That week in Seattle prior to the premiere of Headcase was a really fun and positive experience. It was a blast engaging with the other filmmakers and the programmers/staff at STIFF. It felt like a relaxing victory lap after the arduous and marathon-like production process.
Despite the relaxed vibe, we were still busting our butts across the city putting up posters and handing out flyers to try to drum up awareness. Anthony Greene and a few friends of ours from Toronto even joined up with us at the end of the week to show their support. All in all, I remember that week leading up to the screening very fondly." - Ken Simpson
The premiere screening of Headcase however, was decidedly anti-climactic.
"Well, almost as soon as we got to Seattle the programmer and director at STIFF started apologizing because they had added another film at the last minute which had a competing time slot. The film had several name actors and would be screening at a larger venue where the after party was to take place. Initially we were slightly annoyed but, hey what could we do about it? Well the real damage was done when just five minutes prior to Headcase's premiere the programmers announced to our packed audience that a free shuttle bus was leaving our venue for the other film's screening and eventual after party!" - Alex Jordan
"It's was so disheartening to see the entire audience get up and rush out the door. STIFF knew they were screwing us over and as an after thought they hurriedly announced the screening for Headcase would be free to anyone who stayed, which I guess was their way of making it up to us but in reality it only further cheapened our film, as if it wasn't worth paying for." - Anthony Greene
"Yeah, I didn't take it as hard as Anthony and Alex, probably because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop anyway, because I've never really had much luck wrangling people into attending my screenings. Probably more painful for me was watching two local students (who had won a contest allowing them to screen their short before our premiere) try to get their film to play properly. They had two false starts where the movie would begin to play but there was no audio accompanying the picture, so they had to keep stopping, running to the projection room and try to troubleshoot the issue. Regardless, none of it bode well for our film's reception for the five people who bothered to stick around for our screening." - Ken Simpson
The next stop for the film was the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival.
"I can't say I was very keen on going to Pittsburgh simply because I felt that for whatever reason we weren't really getting much coverage or generating any real awareness. I was worried that we were going to get there and arrive to an empty theatre. I argued with Alex Jordan about it, because it was just so soul crushing to sit in an empty theatre and watch your film by yourself. He kept telling me that as the director I had a responsibility to be at the screening and to support the festival.
Well, okay fine, so a few of us pile into a car and drive down to Pittsburgh, I got to the venue early to put up posters and drop off postcards. I snuck into the screening that was playing before ours and it was a great turn out for a short film marathon, almost a completely packed theatre which was really encouraging!
Well, as soon as the marathon was finished and the lights came up, the entire theatre emptied out. It was Seattle all over again, the only people who were present for that screening was Anthony, myself, two friends who drove down with us and the projectionist." - Ken Simpson
"It was really humbling, not at all how I had pictured what our festival run would be like, I was stunned to be honest." - Anthony Greene
The morale for the filmmakers was at an all time low, and an exceptionally poor review from the STIFF screening certainly didn't help but despite the film's abysmal turnout, audience members who did have a chance to see Headcase responded to it rather favorably. Regardless, the film still hadn't played in the filmmaker's hometown of Toronto - the very place where Headcase was set and made and the hope was that the audience turnout would be substantially higher.
"We were actually getting a little guff from some of the cast and crew who wanted to know why people in Seattle and Pittsburgh were able to see the film but they still couldn't. So we arranged a seven day run at the Big Picture Cinema Theatre in the East end of Toronto. - Alex Jordan
Playing from Sept. 13th - Sept. 19th, the run at Big Picture Cinemas was incredibly successful, so much in fact that a decision was made to extend the screenings for another three days.
"The amount of work and thought and anxiety that goes in to making a movie is incredible. For me, as far as Headcase is concerned the goal was just to make a feature film! So to see that come to fruition and be fully completed and to be able to put that in a theatre and go inside to watch it with the cast and crew and really enjoy it? Well that's as big a success as anything! Any other financial compensation would just be a bonus!" - Sean Jordan
"The Toronto run was exactly the type of screenings we were waiting for, people would laugh at all the right moments, and just generally cheer and jeer on cue. Being a comedy, we found that the larger the audience the larger the laughs, it was just that communal experience of watching a movie with a bunch of other people that added to a general sense of giddiness.
The after parties were a lot of fun too, catching up with the cast and crew some of who had probably and understandably written the film off considering its five year long journey from script to screen. I think for a lot of the cast and crew Headcase represented a kind of time capsule in a way, I mean, some of those people got married and had babies since the last time we saw them. Y'know, real-life-grown-up-type-stuff!" - Ken Simpson
"Since Headcase I've been working as a production manager on several Hollywood films and television productions. Essentially everything I did on Headcase only now I actually get paid! Recently I've also been dabbling as a second unit director and developing & directing my own short films.
I got married to my beautiful wife, Lara Amersey and we've been blessed with the birth of our gorgeous baby girl. I have to say, Headcase really helped me become the kind of producer that I am today, it gave me the skills and experience I needed to excel in the industry." - Alex Jordan
"After eighteen years in the industry I'm happy to say that I'm actually getting paid to direct now which is an incredible privilege and the whole reason I got in to this racket in the first place! The skills that I've learned from making Headcase have been truly invaluable and have helped me become the kind of DIY filmmaker I am today.
I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such a talented and good natured cast and crew on Headcase that I feel an experience like that could never be repeated. The industry has changed so much since we began Headcase, I honestly believe that there is an exciting future for up and coming filmmakers out there, you have the ability to blaze your own trail and create your own opportunities...It's amazing really!" - Ken Simpson
"I had a lot of fun making Headcase, although the financial obligation and the pressure of making my first film made me stressed out most of the time. We had a great cast and crew that really made the film an incredible experience.
Since Headcase I purchased the bar that I was managing and became a parent for the first time which has had a huge, profound and amazing impact on my life. Financially speaking, I'm actually still paying for Headcase but I've been writing a lot and I've got my sights on several new projects." - Anthony Greene
If you enjoyed this oral history of the making of Headcase and want more advice about what to do (and what not to do) when making an ambitious micro-budget feature film, click the link below to rent or purchase the 12 part (5 hour long) making of series!